Earlier this week the coroner decided that Michael Jackson was the victim of a homicide. Here's what that means:

It's important to note that homicide indicates that Jackson was killed; it does not, necessarily, mean he was murdered (homicide with intent to kill); many previous medical homicide cases have involved euthanasia. The Los Angeles County DA has not yet announced murder or manslaughter charges against Jackson's physician,Conrad Murray, who admits to giving Jackson the drugs. ...

NEWSWEEK's Sarah Kliff spoke with Dr. Vincent DiMaio, editor of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology and former chief medical examiner in Baxter County, Texas about what constitutes medical homicide, what doesn’t and why it’s actually not too difficult to tell the difference. Excerpts:

By classifying this death as a homicide, what is the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office saying about the actions of Jackson’s doctor?

What they’re alleging is that [Michael Jackson’s doctor] gave [Jackson] a medication for a non-medical reason and that caused the death…The reason they can classify this as a homicide is that there is simply no medical reason for this drug to have been administered. Suppose he was in surgery, and the doctor had given him too much medication. That’s a different situation which would probably be signed off on as an accident. But in this situation, it’s clearly a homicide.

In general, how do you define a medical homicide? What makes it different from medical malpractice?

There are five ways that forensic pathologists categorize deaths: natural, accidental, homicide, suicide or undetermined. Essentially, homicide means that somebody has caused the death of another person…In terms of medical homicide specifically, I think the simplest way to say it is that it’s a medical decision that’s outrageous, that you could not justify your actions medically. Or you just go to extremes, like deciding to do an operative procedure for which you don’t have the support, doing an operation on your kitchen table. That’s essentially the way to say it: if you have a medical situation, where you’re using things inappropriately and have no medical justification, that’s homicide.

It seems then that a medical homicide will likely be manslaughter or murder.

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